Healer

[I’m not abandoning Maggie. I just couldn’t get a chapter of Maggie to cooperate so I wrote this instead. Let me know what you think.]

The boy lay stretched out on the bed. “Boy” because his face had the soft innocence of sleep. But if you looked at his length, at how far his feet were from his head you knew he was full grown, and a certain firmness about his hands showed that he had crossed the bridge to adulthood, but only just.  The passage was recent enough that sickness could push him back.

A girl no more than ten lay curled up on the mattress at the end of the boy’s bed. A warm blanket was draped over her but she had kicked her feet free.

A third figure sat in a high backed arm chair pulled close to the bed. She held the boy’s left hand in both of her own, and her head was resting on her arms. She might have been checking his pulse or saying a prayer. She was also asleep, though her mouth moved in a litany of answers to an unseen questioner

“The wound is deep, Philipa. What should you do first?”

“Wash it with soap and boiled water.” Philipa answered promptly.

“And then?”

“Cover the wound with a honey sheet and clean, dry bandages.”

“Very good, Philipa. How often should you change the bandage?”

“Twice a day.”

“And for pain?”

“Willow tea every four hours, unless he cannot  swallow. Then he may have a pinch of ground willow bark inside his lip.”

“And if the wound begins to putrefy?”

“Wash it with soap and boiled water, apply maggots until green bread can be prepared, then wash again and bandage with green bread.”

“You’ve forgotten something, Philipa.” The voice rebuked.

“No, I haven’t.” She replied. “That’s all the steps. That’s everything you taught me.”

“Then why does the fever continue, Philipa? What have you forgotten?”

“Men are mortal, Mother. Whatever I do may not be enough because we are made of earth.”

“Yes, Philipa. All men die.”

“Will this man die, Mother?”

“Philipa, what have you forgotten?’

“All men die.”

“I’m not dead yet, Phil. At least, I don’t feel dead.”

Philipa opened her eyes. The boy in the bed looked at her through drooped eyelids. His face was sunken and tired but it had lost the frenzied, fevered redness and when Philipa leaned over to kiss his forehead it was cool. “You’re not dead, William, nor likely to be any day soon, which is well for me. Your Eralian Princess has sent her best healer to tend to you. His boat is expected any day. If he had come while you were still sick I would have locked him out and the Eralians would have demanded my head as a wedding present. But stay a moment. I must wake Sephina, your most loyal of sisters, and send her to your parents. I sent them to the Chapel to give them something to do and they’ve been there two days.”

“Was I that bad?”

“Stay until I wake Sephina.  and I will tell all as soon as she goes.” Philipa walked to the end of the bed and stroked the girl’s soft blond curls.  “Sephina, wake up. William is awake and the danger is passed. Go and tell your parents to say a prayer of thanksgiving and then come break fast with their son, then go to the kitchens and have a meal prepared. Oellan will know what to serve after a sickness.”

Sephina heard all of this as she woke, sprung from her mattress into her brother’s arms, kissed him on the cheek and then scampered off to find her parents.

Philipa turned to see William smiling at her. “You are the most capable woman I know.”

Philipa grinned. “Take care not to say that where Rietta can hear  you, or your Eralian princess. Besides that’s not what you said when I was changing your bandages last night.”

William waved a hand in dismissal. “Rietta never hears me anyway, and my Eralian princess would be wiser to demand your services as a wedding present rather than your head.” He paused and felt the wound in his leg gingerly. “Philipa, was it very bad?”

“It was, William.”

“Maggots?”

“Maggots,” Philipa nodded. “Twice.”

William shuddered. “They are gone, now, aren’t they?”

Philipa smiled. “They are gone.”

William’s parents burst into the room, the knees of their trousers dirty from kneeling in the ashes of the supplicant’s fire. Philipa stayed for a moment as the Queen pulled her son into her arms, then stepped out to say her own prayers and find sleep.

“All men die.” Philipa heard her mother say as she drifted off to sleep.

“Yes, Mother.” She answered. “But not until they’ve lived their whole lives.”

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